Common Ground, Intl. Division

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You’ve got your secular human rights advocates and your unsecular religious liberty advocates, and last week, Hillary Clinton pissed off both by assuring the Chinese that such matters would not get in the way of the two countries working together on the global economic crisis. True no doubt, but not the kind of thing secretaries of state are supposed say out loud. Then, this week, along comes the annual State Department report on human rights around the world, and the word on China is not good. As in:

The government’s human rights record remained poor and worsened in some
areas. During the year the government increased its severe cultural and
religious repression of ethnic minorities in Tibetan areas and the
Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region (XUAR), increased detention and
harassment of dissidents and petitioners, and maintained tight controls
on freedom of speech and the Internet. Abuses peaked around
high-profile events, such as the Olympics and the unrest in Tibet. As
in previous years, citizens did not have the right to change their
government. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), both local and
international, continued to face intense scrutiny and restrictions.
Other serious human rights abuses included extrajudicial killings,
torture and coerced confessions of prisoners, and the use of forced
labor, including prison labor. Workers cannot choose an independent
union to represent them in the workplace, and the law does not protect
workers’ right to strike.

Ouch. Predictably, the Chinese were not happy.

How the administration proceeds on this front will be worth tracking. Clinton has yet to appoint either a new assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor, or a new ambassador for international religious freedom. The latter is a post created a decade ago by the International Religious Freedom Act, and during the Bush administration was occupied by John Hanford, a longtime aide for Sen. Dick Lugar who played a major role in getting that act passed. Hanford (as in Elizabeth Hanford Dole) was a behind-the-scenes guy who seems to have been a serious disappointment to evangelical activists, who prefer the bully pulpit approach to religious liberty abroad.

Over at CT Politics, Timothy Morgan proffers that perspective, and promotes the chances of former National Association of Evangelicals president Don Argue for the ambassadorial post. Argue was appointed to the Commission on International Religious Freedom (also created by the 1998 act) by Clinton and Harry Reid in 2007. Like Robert Seiple, the educator who was appointed by Bill Clinton as the first such ambassador, Argue (an Assemblies of God pastor and chancellor of Northwest University in Kirkland, WA) is one of those Democrat-friendly evangelicals so much in demand in Obamaland.

And leave us not forget OFANP’s new international religious mission: “Finally, beyond American shores this Office will work with the National
Security Council to foster interfaith dialogue with leaders and
scholars around the world.” That’s also a piece of the human rights puzzle.